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The Antidote to Reality TV
No kidding. These are odd times—very odd, and getting more so. In the old days of just yesterday, folks were fairly confident that they could trust "ordinary" reality, meaning the objective world and one's capacity to apprehend it reasonably accurately and fully. Now, well, much of that has changed, radically, at least in the world's technologized cultures.
We now swim in electronically mediated cultures that do not so much broadcast as recast the real. When Disney owns the news (ABC), and Murdoch drives the rest, we have maybe lost sight of land. For ratings in behalf of profit, the exceptional, aberrant, morbid, and bizarre predominate, and nowhere more so than in "reality TV," talk freak shows like Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, and journalism like Hard Copy and Crossfire. All have just about as much "reality" as Baywatch. In the magical sea of the electronic "real"—an engulfing realm of relentless fervid sensation, glitz, hype, and spin—a potent and dubious siren power entices, beguiles, fuzzes, deceives, and, ultimately, if we heed The Truman Show, stupefies all who get near it, either as maker or audience.
Worse still, this ever-new mesmeric techno-splendor exalts the medium into the new Great Baptizer, an elusive circumambient Power that bestows significance and ultimacy on what it will, no matter how tawdry or bogus. If it's out there on the screen or in the speaker, well, then it must be real and good.
A healthy antidote to all this in just about every way is the new PBS Frontline documentary, "The Farmer's Wife," a haunting six-hour look at the hard times of a young Nebraska farm couple, Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter, as they struggle to preserve their dream of farming.1
Darrel rents land next to his father's, which he will eventually take over. He and Juanita were fine until three years of drought and one of flood put them in deep economic trouble. They owe money big time, a little bit to most everybody in town and a whole lot to the banks. ...